Posts Tagged Patricia McAughey

The Art of Receiving Criticism

A couple of weeks ago my writing buddy, Helen Yendall, wrote a blog post about The Art of Giving Feedback. Today, I’m going to come at it from the other side and talk about the The Art of Receiving Criticism.

I am working on a novel, in fact I thought I’d done a reasonable job on it. But I know how hard it can be to look at one’s own writing objectively so I decided to seek the opinion of an expert. I chose published romantic novelist Patricia Fawcett. I have met her a couple of times at writing events and she is also a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Also, Patricia’s critiques are great value for money.

I received a comprehensive report on my novel suggesting several ways that it could be improved, starting with the first chapter where the pace is a ‘domestic crawl’. On the positive side, Patricia said that she liked my female main character who is ‘vulnerable and interesting’ but, on the negative side, my male main character comes across badly and I need to put in more of his back story so the reader gets to know him. Patricia also pointed out that part of the plot depends on a couple of unlikely coincidences that would ‘get up an editor’s nose’ – so they need taking out and/or re-working. She also suggested a different ending to the novel, which I think will probably be more plausible than the one I had in mind. There was much more in the report but I won’t bore you with it all.

So I’ve still got a lot more work ahead of me.

If I’d received this report a few years ago I would probably have stuffed it in a drawer and given up all hope of ever being able to write anything longer than a 1200 word short story. But as the years go by (and I get older and wiser) I realise that very few people get it right first time and there’s no reason why I should be any different. So it’s time to submerge myself in the plot again and learn from everything that Patricia has highlighted.

Patricia ended her report positively, she said, “If I have gauged you right, you will dust yourself down, shake this one up, and carry on to prove to me and to yourself that you can do it.”

Fingers crossed that I can!

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Out of My Depth!

I’ve mentioned before my intention to enter the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition and I’ve been beavering away at my entry since January. I wrote 20,000 words and then paused to take stock and prepare my entry which had to consist of the first 5,000 words plus a full synopsis. The synopsis was a challenge because until then I’d been writing without a detailed plan but after some thought I managed it.

Then I decided to send the 5,000 words and synopsis to novelist Patricia McAughey (who writes as Patricia Fawcett) for a critique. Patricia reads for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and also runs a reasonably priced private critique service for all types of fiction except fantasy, sci-fi or children’s. She can be contacted through her website for a quote.

Patricia sent me a detailed report which very tactfully told me that my story didn’t work because I was still in ‘short story’ mode. She said, “Slow down. You are rushing things. I know it is tempting to try to get all the ideas down but you are writing a longer piece and there is no rush. Relax.”

She went on to explain that I was giving the reader no idea about the setting. One of the scenes was in a Derbyshire cafe but I didn’t describe the interior, the waitress, the view or even indicate whether the place was full or empty. Patricia suggested painting a broad picture of the scene and then honing in on small details such as a woman trying to get a pushchair through the gap in the chairs.

There was a similar problem with my characters. Patricia said, “… I don’t have any great affection as yet for either of the two central characters simply because I don’t know enough about them…”. I had omitted rather obvious details like what the heroine did for a living or what she looked like!

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I did get words of praise for my dialogue (which I love writing) and my synopsis.

So if you’re trying to move from short stories to longer fiction, take a moment to check that you’ve added depth to your writing. Make sure you haven’t skimmed over the setting or the characters’ backgrounds. Have you described what it smells like in the kitchen? Have you mentioned what your hero is wearing as he meets the heroine for the first time?

Later this week Patsy Collins, a successful short story writer and debut novelist, will be guesting on this blog and attempting to explain how she made the leap from short stories to seeing her first novel published.

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